- Oregon’s governor asked the state police to help find the 11 Republican state senators who fled the state in hopes of stopping a vote on a proposed climate change bill.
- Governor Kate Brown’s request was met with backlash, as well as threats from militia groups.
- The threats caused the State Capitol building to be closed on Saturday and forced a legislative session to be canceled.
- Oregon’s state constitutional deadline for the legislature to adjourn is June 30, which means any bills not passed by the end of the month will be wiped out.
Oregon’s State Capitol was closed down on Saturday after the state police superintendent informed the Senate president that local militia groups had plans to rally and protest outside the building in response to Governor Kate Brown’s recent request.
Following Thursday’s legislative session at the State Capitol, 11 Republican senators walked out and did not return. This left the legislature two senators short of a quorum. Governor, Kate Brown responded to the walkout and asked for police assistance to track the runaways down.
Oregon state police agreed to comply, saying in a statement: “OSP will work with the Governor’s office and members of the Legislature to find the most expeditious way to bring this matter to a peaceful and constructive conclusion.”
The Governor’s request brought reactions from many groups, notably militias in the region. One militia, called the Oath Keepers wrote on their public Facebook page, “Gov. Brown, you want a civil war, because this is how you get a civil war.” The group is described as one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the United States by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Another paramilitary group, the Oregon III% also voiced their support for the runaway senators.
According to The Daily Beast, a source inside the Oregon militia movement said their members are, “willing to put their own lives in front of these senators’ lives.”
The heightened tensions and concern for safety lead to the canceling of Saturday’s floor session. According to reports, a text message from Senate leadership was sent out, confirming the decision.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) said she received the text message and shared it on social media, KATU reported.
“The State Police Superintendent just informed the Senate President of a credible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow,” the message read. “The Superintendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol and President [Peter] Courtney heeded that advice minutes ago.”
A spokeswoman for the Senate president later confirmed the “Oregon State Police ha[ve] recommended that the Capitol be closed tomorrow due to a possible militia threat.”
Another session was attempted on Sunday but was quickly adjourned once it was clear the 11 Republican Senators who had walked out would not return. The session was moved to Monday morning, but according to local reports, the 11 Senators still never showed.
The bill at the root of all the tension is HB2020, a bill that would try to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by imposing a statewide cap-and-trade program. State Senate Republicans oppose the bill because they believe it would hurt lower-income individuals who live in rural areas. They also believe that it should be decided by Oregon voters directly, rather than the Democratic-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor.
Senate Republican leader, Herman Baertschiger, explained in a statement, “protesting cap and trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job. We have endured threats of arrest, fines, and pulling community project funds from the Governor, Senate President and Majority Leader. We will not stand by and be bullied by the majority party any longer.”
In addition to the HB2020 bill, hundreds of other budget and policy bills are currently being discussed. However, in order for the Senate to conduct business, a quorum of 20 members is necessary, with the 11 senators missing they are two senators short. Oregon’s state constitutional deadline for the legislature to adjourn is June 30, which means any bills not passed by the end of the month will be wiped out.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (Oregon Live) (KOIN)
Federal Officials Distribute Medical Gear Seized in Price-Gouging Investigation
- Federal agents seized essential medical gear including 192,000 N95 respirator masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 598,000 medical grade gloves, from a man in Brooklyn, NY hoarding and reselling supplies at a 700% mark up.
- When agents confronted the man, he allegedly lied about his crimes and coughed towards them, saying he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
- He was charged with assaulting federal officers and making false statements to law enforcement.
- Officials took possession of the items and distributed them to NY and NJ health departments, saying they will pay the man “fair market value” for the goods.
Federal officials said Thursday that they seized thousands of masks and other essential medical supplies from an alleged hoarder in Brooklyn this week, which they redistributed to health departments in New York and New Jersey.
The supplies, taken from 43-year-old Baruch Feldheim, included 192,000 N95 respirator masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 598,000 medical grade gloves, surgical gowns, disinfectant towels, hand sanitizer, and spray disinfectant.
The Department of Justice and Health and Human Services said the equipment was seized by a task force created to crack down on coronavirus-related hoarding and price gouging.
While personal protective equipment, known as PPE, is in high demand all over the world, it is especially needed in New York and New Jersey, where the most coronavirus cases have been reported in the United States.
The investigation against Feldheim came after a New Jersey doctor told NBC News in an interview last month that because of the severe supply shortages, he resorted to buying protective equipment on the black market at an extremely high price.
Federal agents approached the doctor for more information and he directed them to a WhatsApp group where sales were being facilitated. The doctor told investigators Feldheim charged him $12,000 for a large order of maks, gowns, gloves, and hazmat gear. The F.B.I described that price as a 700% markup.
The doctor told investigators that when he went to pick up his order at an auto repair shop in Irvington, N.J., he saw enough pallets of medical gear, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and surgical equipment to supply an entire hospital. FBI agents even said they themselves saw people walking away from Feldheim’s residence with boxes or bags of what appeared to be medical supplies.
“It’s the most un-American thing I can think of right now, in a time of crisis, for anybody to take materials that they know are needed on the front line and take them out of the supply chain, hide them and try to sell them at a markup,” Craig Carpenito, the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey who was tapped by the attorney general last week to lead the task force, told CNN
Federal agents first confronted Feldheim outside his home Sunday, where he reportedly lied about owning and selling large quantities of supplies. He also allegedly coughed towards the agents, telling them he had tested positive for the virus, authorities said.
The following day, Justice Department prosecutors in Newark charged Feldheim with assaulting federal officers and making false statements to law enforcement. Carpenito told CNN prosecutors were still investigating and considering charges of hoarding and price gouging under the Defense Production Act.
Feildheim’s defense lawyer, James Moriarty, denied the charges and said his client had not entered a plea yet, according to Reuters.
As far as the seized goods, Health and Human Services said it used its Defense Production Act authority to take possession of the items for the US government and will pay Feldheim the “fair market value” for them. The materials were inspected and redistributed to the health departments of New York State, New Jersey, and New York City, the authorities said.
In a message sent to his F.B.I. colleagues sent Thursday, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Newark office, Gregory W. Ehrie, said the efforts of law enforcement officers were making a difference during the healthcare crisis.
“It is gratifying when the challenging and risky work of our agents has such positive and tangible results,” Ehrie wrote.
“Profiteers need to be aware that we are looking for them and will do whatever necessary to help stem the tide of this crisis. The public needs to know that they are a force multiplier in our efforts and should bring us any information that could curtail criminal activity.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Fox News)
Dr. Fauci Receives Security Detail After Increased Threats
- The government is increasing Dr. Fauci’s personal security detail over concerns for his safety.
- According to reports, the decision is due to unwanted communication from admirers and the recent spread of right-wing conspiracy theories claiming he is a “deep-state” agent sent to undermine Trump.
- When asked if he felt threatened during an interview Thursday, Dr. Fauci responded in part: “I’ve chosen this life.”
Dr. Fauci Security Concerns
Government officials have decided to give Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, a personal security detail amid growing concerns over the doctor’s safety.
The move was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post and has since been confirmed to other outlets.
According to sources in the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who spoke to the Post, the concerns “include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers.”
While the Post reported that the “exact nature of the threats” were not clear, sources told the newspaper that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had “recently grew concerned about Fauci’s safety as his profile rose and he endured more vitriolic criticism online.”
Conspiracy Theories and Smear Campaign
Dr. Fauci has been the target of right-wing smear campaigns and conspiracy theories. According to reports, the conspiracies center around the idea that he is part of a “deep-state” plot to undermine Trump, stemming from the fact that Dr. Fauci has been known to correct or clarify statements the president has made.
While some of these conspiracies have been connected to the doctor for several weeks now, many point to a press conference on March 20 as a specific instance that caused them to gain traction.
During the conference, Trump referred to the State Department the “Deep State Department,” and Dr. Fauci, standing behind him, put his hand over his eyes.
Fauci later claimed he just had a lozenge stuck in his throat, but the incident became fuel for right-wing conspiracy theorists, who claimed that it was evidence Dr. Fauci was trying to undermine Trump.
“On Twitter and Facebook, a post that falsely claimed he was part of a secret cabal who opposed Mr. Trump was soon shared thousands of times, reaching roughly 1.5 million people,” the New York Times reported.
After that, the online attacks grew as more prominent right-wing pundits and blogs began to spread them.
Conservative platforms including as the Gateway Pundit and the American Thinker shared an email Dr. Fauci sent in 2013 that had been published by WikiLeaks, where Fauci praised Hillary Clinton’s “stamina and capability” during her testimony during the Bengazhi hearings.
The American Thinker ran that story with the headline: “Anthony Fauci, the NIH’s face of the coronavirus, is a Deep-State Hillary Clinton–loving stooge.”
Those emails were also shared by Bill Mitchell, a far-right podcast host with more than half a million followers.
“Is Fauci a Hillary plant? Think about this,” he wrote on Twitter. “Trump makes a hopeful statement on #hydrochloroquine and Fauci immediately runs to #CNN, Trump’s most hated #FakeNews outlet to contradict him? That is EXACTLY what a Hillary plant would do.”
Mitchell and others have also accused Fauci of destroying the economy. That point was echoed in another article by the American Thinker, which was retweeted by Fox News Host Laura Ingraham to her 3.2 million followers.
These conspiracies have since been spread on most social media platforms.
“On YouTube, conspiracy-theory videos about Dr. Fauci have racked up hundreds of thousands of views in the past week,” the New York Times wrote. “In private Facebook groups, posts disparaging him have also been shared hundreds of times and liked by thousands of people.”
Buzzfeed News also reported that the conspiracy theories involving Dr. Fauci had been shared on 4chan, where “anonymous users have posted dozens of huge threads about Fauci, implying he’s part of a global pedophile ring after surfacing a photo of him and singer Elton John, claiming Trump has secretly fired him, and accusing him of being part of a global Jewish cabal.”
Trump, however, has tried to tamp down accusations that there are tensions between him and Fauci. In fact, in the last few days, he has taken up more of the doctor’s recommendations regarding social distancing and other concerns.
When asked about the security detail during a press briefing Wednesday, Dr. Fauci did not comment, but Trump interjected, “He doesn’t need security, everybody loves him.”
During an interview Thursday morning on NBC, Dr. Fauci was asked if he felt threatened.
“I’ve chosen this life. I mean I know what it is,” he responded. “There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do, and just put all that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it, and just forge ahead.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Buzzfeed News)
Politicians and Celebrities Push for Changes to Improve Vote by Mail Access
- Nancy Pelosi is pushing for funding to expand voting by mail as the coronavirus leaves people trapped at home, unable to go to polling locations. This has come with some pushback from several including the President, but Pelosi and others feel this is how voting should be done going forward.
- Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Khloe Kardashian, Sia, and more are also joining a campaign to encourage others to vote by mail.
- In the several states that do not allow all voters to cast ballots in the mail, these stars are telling citizens to contact representatives to make this method more accessible.
- In addition to voting by mail, some election officials believe electronic voting could be an effective tool in the future.
Pelosi’s Vote by Mail Plan
As the coronavirus postpones primary elections and keeps people at home, politicians and celebrities alike are calling for expanded access to voting by mail.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she is seeking between $2 billion and $4 billion in funding for voting by mail in the next stimulus package.
She is also looking to increase funding for the post office. Pelosi initially announced her intentions to expand voting by mail on Tuesday during an interview on Morning Joe.
“The integrity of the election system is central to our democracy,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could oppose our enabling the states to have vote by mail.”
The Speaker has faced opposition, though. Some fear that this could lead to lower-income voters who tend to move a lot not having an easy way to vote. President Donald Trump has also expressed issues with stretching voting options. On Monday, he claimed Republicans would never get elected if voting by mail increased.
Pelosi, however, does not believe the President’s claims.
“I think that’s necessary for our country to have a Republican party and I feel sad that the President does not have confidence that his party can not convince the American people about a path to go forward,” she said on Morning Joe.
Celebrities Speak Up
On top of Pelosi’s efforts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden are working on legislation that will allow more voters to vote early and by mail. Politicians are also not the only ones advocating for voting by mail. Celebrities have partnered up with Represent Us to start a #VoteAtHome campaign. Represent Us is an organization that brings people from across the political spectrum to do a number of things, including fighting political corruption and bribery, and improving our election system.
Stars like Khloe Kardashian, Sia and Sarah Silverman have all posted to their social media channels with #VoteAtHome, encouraging their followers to apply for absentee ballots so they can vote safely while in lockdowns.
Several states, however, do not allow people to vote from home. Right now, only 34 states will allow voters to vote absentee without any excuse come November. A handful of states are allowing extended vote-by-mail measures due to the coronavirus, but it is unclear if this will apply to November’s presidential election. There are 12 states that do not grant absentee ballots without an excuse and changing rules in those states could prove to be difficult.
Because of this, the stars who partnered with Represent Us are encouraging people to contact their representatives and demand that voting by mail be accessible to everyone. Actress Jennifer Lawrence made a video for the group encouraging those watching to speak up.
“A bill in congress and your Secretary of State can fix this right now,” the Academy Award winner said about voting by mail restrictions. “So go to Represent.Us/VoteAtHome to find out how you can call your representatives in support of #VoteAtHome. This is extremely important. It’s our elections we’re talking about, so please help spread the word.”
Voting by mail is not the only solution some see for voting in the age of coronavirus. Two election officials wrote a piece for TechCrunch in support of electronic voting. While the method might seem new and flashy, 23 states and D.C. already let some voters cast ballots via email, while five more allow some to do so via a web portal.
Amelia Powers-Gardner and Chris Walker, the officials who wrote the piece, believe there have always been good reasons to move to online voting.
“Traditional voting methods simply don’t work for those living abroad, deployed in the military or those with disabilities,” they wrote. “As election officials, it’s our duty to stand up for the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
With the outbreak right now, though, the two believe this could be the time to start taking the subject seriously.
“Expanding voter participation by ensuring ballot access for all citizens is paramount to protecting our democracy, Powers-Gardner and Walker said.
“In the 21st century, that will necessarily include electronic methods, particularly as we face challenges with voters abroad and contemplate emerging challenges at home like COVID-19, where large public gatherings — and long lines — spark new threats to consider.”
It goes without saying that electronic voting comes with a great number of security concerns. Still, Powers-Gardner and Walker think that with the developments of new technologies, it is possible.
The two cited an instance in Utah where the state’s oldest voter, at the age of 106, was able to vote from an app after she broke her ankle and could not hold a pen steadily. Pilots around the country are also showing progress and allowing for audits to ensure accurate results.